You may think that not getting enough sleep will just make you incredibly tired and a little irritable, but it goes beyond that. It can lead to health problems such as heart disease, weight gain, diabetes, and memory loss.
Most adults have incredibly busy lives. From trying to raise a family to working a full-time job and everything that happens in between, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
Instead of going to bed when they are tired, they’ll spend that time catching up on items that weren’t accomplished during the day. While this may seem productive, it is actually harmful and can lead to sleep debt.
What Is Sleep Debt?
The term “sleep debt” is used to refer to continuously losing sleep. This generally happens when you decide to stay up an extra few hours to get a project done or get up early for the same reasons.
Insomnia can also add to sleep debt. In essence, anything that interrupts your ability to get between 6 and 10 hours of sleep each night adds to your sleep debt.
Every person is different, so how much sleep they need varies. Other factors that play into how much sleep a person needs include age, if the person is sick or impacted by chronic pain, amount and frequency of exercise, and if they are pregnant.
Things that can disturb sleep patterns include too much caffeine or alcohol as well as blue lights, which are found in electronic devices such as phones and TVs.
To determine how much sleep you need to feel rested, here is a process you can try:
- Go to bed at the same time you go to bed now and wake up at the same time you normally get up for work. Calculate the amount of time you slept.
- For the next 2 to 3 nights, go to bed 15 minutes earlier than you normally do. Keep this up until you get 7 hours of sleep each night.
- When you’ve been sleeping for 7 hours for a few nights, take note of how you feel. If you find that you are still tired or that it’s hard to wake up when your alarm goes off, go to bed 15 minutes earlier the next night.
- Continue this process until you get enough sleep every night. Your body will tell you how it feels and if you’re getting enough rest.
How Do You Know You’re Getting Enough Rest?
The thing about sleep debt is that people are often so used to functioning with not enough sleep that they don’t even recognize the symptoms anymore. The body and mind are amazing things, and they can adapt to a variety of different situations.
While you may be able to function on not enough sleep and still get your tasks done, you’re damaging your health. Remember, sleep debt leads to heart problems, memory loss, diabetes, and weight gain.
Even though you’ve found ways to cope with sleep debt, your body will give you signs that it needs more rest. Pay attention to these things. While determining how much rest you need, it’s advisable to keep a journal during the day to keep track of the indicators of sleep debt. They include the following.
When you wake up in the morning, record how much sleep you got and how you felt. Note whether your alarm woke you up or if you woke up on your own. Do you feel rested? Do you feel good? Or do you feel groggy?
Throughout the day, record how many cups of coffee or other forms of caffeine you consume to feel awake and functional. How many times do you yawn throughout the day? If you find it hard to stay awake when at your desk, you may be adding to your sleep debt.
You’ll also need to keep track of your body’s cravings. If you find yourself constantly hungry for sugar and/or carbohydrates, it may be because you didn’t get enough sleep. Your body is looking for extra energy so that it can function.
If you find that you’re too tired to exercise, this can be another sign that you’re not getting enough sleep.
At the end of the day (or week), look over your records. This will help you determine if you’re getting enough sleep.
Can I Repay My Sleep Debt?
If you look at your journal and notice some patterns, including those that lead to sleep debt, don’t freak out.
While you’re not getting enough rest now, you can repay your sleep debt and get back on track to feeling rested and improve your health.
Some people believe that sleep debt can’t be repaid, but studies have shown that parts of it can be repaid. It just takes time.
Repaying sleep debt won’t happen in a weekend. Here are some things you can do to help get a good night’s rest:
1. Develop a Sleep Sanctuary
Having a separate work environment and a sleep sanctuary is important. This will get you up and moving during the day, helping you get rid of some excess energy as well as allowing you to stretch and keep muscles from getting stiff, which can make it easier to fall asleep at night.
Bill Becker, CEO and Design Director of BDI, which manufacturers ergonomically minded office furniture, including a series of standing desks said:
“The workplace can be one of the most challenging environments to adopt healthy habits, given that on average, the majority of workers sit nearly 6 hours a day, burning only 1 calorie per minute. More importantly, prolonged sitting has been known to lead to other health issues such as increased blood pressure, excess body fat and high cholesterol. This is where a sit+stand desk can make a difference. There are many mental and physical benefits to standing desks, and can be a great component of an overall active and healthy lifestyle.”
To create your non-work, sleep sanctuary, you need to have a comfortable bed that doesn’t increase or develop pain in your body. You also need to keep TVs out of the room, as well as computers and other mobile devices. The blue light from these can mess up circadian rhythms and keep you from getting good sleep.
Only use your room for sleeping, intimate activities, and other forms of relaxation, including reading or meditating. This will train your brain to recognize the space as a place of calm. It’s also important to only go to bed when you are tired.
If you wake in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep within a few minutes, you need to get out of the room and go somewhere else. When you are tired, go back into your sanctuary to sleep.
2. Exercise Regularly
It may seem counterintuitive, but exercising leads to better sleep at night. It helps reduce stress and anxiety, both of which can impact how well you sleep. It also increases how deep of sleep you get, as well as improves sleep quality.
Since sleep debt leads to weight gain and other health issues, exercising has the ability to counteract these problems. The better you feel through exercise, the better you’ll sleep at night.
However, it’s important that you don’t exercise within 3 hours of going to bed. This may keep you awake and add to your sleep debt.
3. Only Nap If Absolutely Necessary
You may think that getting in a good nap during the day can help you with your sleep debt. In some cases, it can. But keep in mind that if you’re napping during the day and then finding yourself going to bed later at night or not getting quality sleep, it’s not helping repay your sleep debt.
Sticking to a bedtime routine throughout the week and on the weekends is the best way to ensure that you’re getting enough rest, and more often than not, you won’t need to nap during the day.
While you may be tempted to stay up later on weekends to catch up with friends, family, or the TV shows you missed during the week, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Sticking to a routine is better for your body and your quality of sleep.
4. Watch What You Put into Your Body
Too much caffeine throughout the day can impact how well you sleep at night. You may find yourself in an afternoon slump after lunch, but reaching for another cup of coffee or an energy drink is impacting your sleep.
Limit your caffeine intake to the morning. To energize yourself in the afternoon, eat some natural sugars such as fruit or grab some protein. You may also consider going for a quick, 15-minute walk to help perk yourself up.
At night, when you’re winding down after a long day, limit the amount of alcohol you consume. It may seem like it’s helping you get a good night’s rest, it’s not.
Alcohol makes it difficult for your body to go into deep sleep, so you’re not getting the quality of sleep you think you are. A few drinks are fine, but watch how much you consume.
5. Skip the Sleeping Pills
When it comes to falling asleep fast, there are a variety of over-the-counter and prescription products to help people sleep. It may be tempting to use these as a quick fix, but keep in mind that these are generally used as a short-term solution.
While some people benefit from taking sleeping aids for a short amount of time, the vast majority of people abuse them, which can be harmful to health and hurt your sleeping ability. If you have questions about the effectiveness of sleeping pills, talk to your doctor.
The Bottom Line
Sleep is important. Humans can’t live without sleep. We need it to be able to function and to stay healthy. Sleep is when the brain and body repair themselves, without enough, you may find yourself feeling groggy, irritable, and unwell.
If you incorporate all of the suggestions above into your routine but still find yourself in sleep debt, you may have another issue that needs to be addressed by your doctor. Talk to them to find the best course of action so you can get a good night’s rest.
Sleep debt is a major concern for a lot of people. Thankfully, there are ways to repay this debt, and getting enough rest is beneficial in so many ways. Here’s to a good night’s rest!